This article contains The Defenders spoilers.
I probably don’t have to tell you that the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics were a loving send-up of Frank Miller’s incredible run on Daredevil, which was in the process of redefining what people expected your average Marvel comic to be in the early 1980s. Miller’s work brought elements to Daredevil’s world that have become so essential to the entire Marvel Universe that it’s difficult to imagine a time before they were an integral part of the mythology. A key part of this is how Daredevil tied in to the great pop culture ninja zeitgeist of the ’80s with the introduction of The Hand, the mystical, ancient clan of ninjas, and their sworn enemies, The Chaste, led by mysterious asshole sensei, Stick.
So when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were creating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Daredevil was already an inescapable influence, and there are nods to those comics throughout the earliest TMNT stories. For one thing, the origin story of the Turtles is linked pretty explicitly to Daredevil’s. Young Matt Murdock famously put his life in the line when he saved an old man from getting hit by a truck carrying a toxic substance, and that substance ended up blinding him and giving him powers. A nearly identical scene plays out in the TMNT origin…
The similarities don’t end there, of course. The Turtles’ kindly rat/father/sensei is named Splinter, while Matt Murdock’s not-at-all-kindly rat bastard/mentor/sensei is Stick. Daredevil takes on The Hand from his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, while the Turtles do battle with The Foot from their headquarters in the sewers of NYC. You get the idea.
So what the hell does this have to do with The Defenders?
In the fifth episode of The Defenders, as the team makes their escape from a Hand onslaught at the Royal Dragon Chinese restaurant, Stick pulls open a manhole cover and instructs his four heroic charges to escape into…the sewers. “It smells like shit,” Stick says in all of his Stick-ness, “but it’s our only way out.”
So we have an older martial arts master with a wood-themed name telling four heroes that their only hope is in the sewers. This is after four episodes where the heroes are color-coded via both lighting and clothing choices (Matt is red, Iron Fist is green, Luke Cage is yellow, Jessica Jones is purple). When the TMNT made the jump from comics to their first animated series in 1987, their identical red eyemasks (another Daredevil homage) were color-coded to make them more easily distinguishable (Leonardo/blue, Donatello/purple, Michelangelo/orange, while Raphael retained the original red). I’ll leave it up to you to decide which Defender fits with which Turtle in terms of personality.
Anyway, I refuse to believe that Stick’s sewer escape suggestion (which is never mentioned again) was anything other than an intentional nod to the debt the TMNT owe the comics that spawned him.
One final note, until the Daredevil Netflix series came along and did all this stuff right, you know what the greatest Daredevil cinematic moment was? When Raphael fights an army of Foot Clan ninjas on a New York City rooftop in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (which I will defend with my dying breath), that’s about as close to the ninja beatdown-fests of the Frank Miller Daredevil comics as we ever had on screen.
Mike Cecchini is serious about that first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Celebrate it with him on Twitter. Criticize it at your peril.
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